Bill Travers in 1966
3 January 1922
|Died||29 March 1994 (aged 72)|
Virginia McKenna (1957–1994; his death)
William Inglis Lindon-Travers MBE (3 January 1922 – 29 March 1994) was an English actor, screenwriter, director and animal rights activist, known professionally as Bill Travers. Prior to his show business career, he had served in the British army with Gurkha and special forces units.
Travers was born in Sunderland, County Durham, UK, the son of Florence (née Wheatley) and William Halton Lindon-Travers, a theatre manager. His sister Linden (1913–2001), and her daughter Susan, became actresses.
William Inglis Linden-Travers enlisted as a private in the British Army at the age of 18, a few months after the outbreak of the Second World War, and was sent to India. Travers was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Indian Army on 9 July 1942 (from the rank of private). He served in the Long Range Penetration Brigade 4th Battalion 9th Gurkha Rifles in Burma, attached to Orde Wingate's staff, during which service he came to know John Masters, who was his brigade major (Travers was later to act in Bhowani Junction, a tale written by Masters). While deep behind enemy lines, Major Travers was struck by malaria and volunteered to be left behind in a native Burmese village. To avoid capture, he disguised himself as a Chinese national and walked hundreds of miles through jungle territory until he reached an Allied position.
In 1945, Travers was promoted to the rank of major, and he joined Force 136 Special Operations Executive and was parachuted into Malaya. Travers was responsible for training and tactical decisions with the main resistance movement, the communist-led Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA).
Travers was one of the first allied operatives to enter the Japanese city of Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb. He wrote about his experience in his diary, registering profound horror at the destruction and loss of life. Major Travers left the armed forces in 1947.
On 7 November 1946 Travers was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) "in recognition of gallant and distinguished service whilst engaged in Special Operations in South East Asia".
Travers got out of the army in 1947 and decided to become an actor. He began working on stage in 1949, then a year later made his film debut in Conspirator (1949). He had unbilled parts in Trio (1950), and The Wooden Horse (1950). Travers had a slightly bigger part in The Browning Version (1951) and a good role on TV in "Albert" (later filmed as Albert R.N.) for BBC Sunday-Night Theatre (1951).
Travers could be seen in Hindle Wakes (1952), The Planter's Wife (1952), The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), It Started in Paradise (1952), Mantrap (1953), Street of Shadows (1953), and The Square Ring (1953). He was in "The Heel" for Douglas Fairbanks Jr Presents.
Travers remained a supporting player in Counterspy (1953) and had a good part in Romeo and Juliet (1954) as Benvolio. His best chance to date was in Footsteps in the Fog (1955), starring Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons.
Travers breakthrough came when he was cast in the title role of Geordie (1955), directed by Frank Launder. This was popular in Britain and the US and saw him contracted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which thought he was going to be a big star and brought him to Hollywood.
MGM cast him in the expensive epic Bhowani Junction (1956), with Granger and Ava Gardner. He followed this as the romantic lead in a remake of The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957), opposite Jennifer Jones. Powell and Pressburger wanted him to star in the lead of Ill Met By Moonlight but the role went to Dirk Bogarde. Travers briefly returned to Britain to make a comedy, The Smallest Show on Earth (1957), with his second wife Virginia McKenna, whom he had married in 1957.
Back in Hollywood, he was Eleanor Parker's character's love interest in The Seventh Sin (1957), a remake of a Greta Garbo film. MGM tested him for the lead in Ben-Hur (1959) and he wrote a swashbuckler to star himself, The Falcon. However his MGM films all performed disappointingly at the box office - Barretts and Seventh Sign were notable flops - and enthusiasm for Travers in Hollywood cooled.
Travers did "A Cook for Mr. General" for Kraft Theatre (1958) on TV. Then he returned to Britain.
Travers and McKenna starred in a melodrama for the Rank Organisation, Passionate Summer (1958). He tried to get up a war film set in Greenland, The Sledge Patrol, but it does not appear to have been made. He and Launder tried to repeat the success of Geordie with The Bridal Path (1960), but the film was not a success.
Travers did "Born a Giant" for Our American Heritage (1960) on TV, then returned to Britain where he made a British monster film, Gorgo (1961). Travers and McKenna reteamed on a thriller, Two Living, One Dead (1961). He then starred in a race car drama for MGM, The Green Helmet (1961), and a comedy with Spike Milligan, Invasion Quartet (1961).
He was in a Broadway production of A Cook for Mr General (1961). Travers starred in a TV adaptation of Lorna Doone (1963). He returned to Hollywood to do some episodes of The Everglades, Rawhide ("Incident at Two Graves") and Espionage ("A Camel to Ride"). Back on Broadway he played the title role in Abraham Cochrane which had a short run.
Travers' most famous film role came when he played game warden George Adamson in the highly successful 1966 film Born Free, about which experience the two co-wrote the book On Playing with Lions. He co-starred with McKenna and the experience made him and his wife very conscious of the many abuses of wild animals in captivity that had been taken from Africa and other natural environments around the world.
Travers received an offer to play a support role in Duel at Diablo (1967); during filming he broke a leg and dislocated a shoulder. He played the title role in a British TV version of The Admirable Crichton (1968), alongside his wife, and had a small part in Peter Hall's adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968).
Travers and McKenna made another "animal movie", Ring of Bright Water (1969) for which he also wrote the script. They followed this with An Elephant Called Slowly (1970), which Travers helped write and produce with James Hill, who directed. In 1969, he played Captain Hook on a stage production of Peter Pan.
Travers worked as an actor only on Rum Runners (1971) with Brigitte Bardot and Lino Ventura. He directed and appeared in a documentary, The Lion at World's End (1971) about Christian the lion.
He was reunited with James Hill on The Belstone Fox (1973) and co-wrote a documentary, "The Wild Dogs of Africa" for The World About Us (1973). He later produced "The Baboons of Gombe" (1975) for the same show.
He and Hill wrote and produced The Queen's Garden (1977) together, and Travers helped produce Bloody Ivory (1980).
One of his last credits was "Highland Fling" on Lovejoy (1992).
Bill Travers spent his last three years travelling around Europe's slum zoos and a TV documentary that he made exposed the appalling suffering of thousands of animals. Travers died in his sleep in Dorking, Surrey, aged 72. He was survived by his wife and five children. His widow, Virginia McKenna, carries on his work to help suffering animals, as does their son, Will Travers, who is President of the Born Free Foundation.
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